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Tourism: Should Tour Guides Be Tipped?

Tour guides' practice of taking tips used to be considered as illegal in China, though it has been existing covertly in both inbound and outbound travels or other tourism-related businesses. It has been an open secret that all tour guides receive tips.


With the Spring Festival coming nearer, a new peak of outbound travels appears. But today, many travel agencies have listed tip charges openly in the package costs.


"This was out of imagination years ago," said one of the leading managers in a top-brand travel agency in Shandong Province. "On one hand, the administrative departments would check it, so the travel agencies dared not write tips into the packages; and on the other hand, the tourists would not accept it. Now, in this travel season, tourists all show their understanding and take a cooperative attitude."


It is reported that many tourist agencies exclusively list tips in their quoted prices and tell tourists in advance. For instance, the tip is 20 yuan per person per day for tours to the Southeast Asian countries, Hong Kong and Macao; 30 yuan per person per day for tours to South Korea, and 60 yuan per person per day for Germany. Tips are given to local tour guides and drivers. Foreign tourists usually give Chinese tourist guides and drivers tips too during their visits to China, though the rate is much less than that they pay in other places.


Old Chinese regulation challenged by international practice


In many countries and regions, tip is the major income of tour guides. Taking tips is an international convention in tourism-related businesses. At present, most of tourism-developed countries have a perfect tipping system based on service quality.


However, for a long time, tip was treated as an illegal income in China. In 1987, the National Tourism Administration issued the Provisions Concerning Strict Forbiddance on Acceptance of Commission and Tips in Handling Tourist Business. The document, which played an important role in the past 16 years, objects reception of commissions and tips in tourism-related businesses. In their work, staff members in the tourist industry are not permitted to ask for, or accept, without permission, commission (including various negotiable securities, material objects and other remuneration). The Provisions also stipulate heavy punishments.


As a matter of fact, the Provisions played an important role in a special period to guarantee the healthy development of China's tourism market, but experts feel many specific contents of the documents are out of date. It is said that many insiders think that the practice of receiving tips should be legalized and regulated so that other disguised charges can be eliminated. 


Tips yes, commissions no


The tipping system directly influences tour guides' income and tourists' interests. It will also challenge the commission system practiced in tourism-related businesses.


Ms. Xu went to visit Stone Forest in Yunnan Province through a local tourist agency in Shandong Province. She and other tourists were led by the tour guide to go shopping all the morning, leaving them a short time to tour the Stone Forest in the afternoon. Xu and her fellow-travelers all felt cheated.


Many tourists have similar experiences. Some were even led to go to five to six shops in a day. Obviously tour guides can make money by leading tourists to go shopping. It is popular even in tourism-developed areas.


Mr. Sun, a veteran tour guide in Shandong Province, said the relations between tour guides and tourists are often very strained because of the too many purchases. These days, however, taking rebates begin to become risky because the country's tourism market is becoming mature and the tourists are more experienced. If tour guides are allowed to receive tips, they will attach more attention to their customers and their service quality will surely improve.


Can tip system be popularized?


At present, tip has been institutionalized in China's inbound and outbound travels, but it remains unpopular in domestic travels. Most domestic tour guides still rely their incomes on commission.


Early in 1999, a joint venture travel agency clearly announced that it allowed tour guides to receive tips. But the practice was stopped because of the state policy and the refusal from tourists.


Chang Dejun, a manager with Asia-Pacific Department of Shandong Travel Service, said that tips have their cultural background. Domestic tourists need to be given time to accept it.


Feng Banshuang, director of the Tourist Complain Center in Shandong Province, thinks the matter of commission exists only between individual tour guides and shops in current tourism module. For a long term, a commission system should be set up between travel agencies and shops.


Wang Chenguang, professor with the tourism department of Shandong University, said, the historical value of the Provisions cannot be denied. Today, when the market situation, consumption level and people's concepts are changing, tourism administrations should adjust relevant policies so as to regulate the market and tour guides' behaviors.


Other experts also think the restriction of taking tips in tourism industry is no longer suitable for China's current social and economic development.


(China.org.cn by Unisumoon January 19, 2004)

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